Cooking For One Person - Some Simple Tips And Tricks To Get Great Tasting Meals

Whether cooking for one person, or cooking for 2, here are some ideas on using recipes that cater for more people to get the same results.

Most often, recipes will give you quantities that serve 4-6 people. That’s great if you’re cooking for a dinner party, but most often we just want meals for ourselves, or meals for two. It can make it a little tricky when trying to maintain some healthy cooking for one or two people.

In most recipe books I've seen, there is a shortage of cooking for one recipes or even cooking for two recipes. Cooking for singles seems to be low in demand but I think cooking for 1, or healthy cooking for two, is something that needs to be catered to.

When using and modifying a recipe, I have found that simply dividing the quantity of ingredients by 2 or 4 or whatever didn’t always result in a good meal. Sometimes it was overcooked, other times the liquid/sauce boiled away to almost nothing.

It was then I realised that although I had reduced the quantity of ingredients, I either kept the same cooking times or used the wrong sized equipment (or both). As well as that, I found that some ingredients don’t need to be reduced in quantity as much as others.

So here are some tips for cooking smaller portion sizes. Next time you're after some dinner for two recipes, or recipes for one, I hope this will help you cook meals for yourself that taste just as nice as when you make them for 5 other people!

Cooking Equipment Size

The rule of thumb here is: smaller portion size = smaller pan size.

When cooking for 4-6 people, you obviously need larger saucepans and frypans.

Why? Firstly, the pans have to be big enough to hold all the ingredients, and secondly, they have to be the right size to allow even cooking without allowing the juices/liquids to evaporate away. I call this the quantity-of-ingredients : pan-size ratio

So, when cooking for one person, the smaller quantities mean you need to cook in a much smaller pan. That way, the quantity-of-ingredients : pan-size ratio remains more or less the same.

If you cooked in the same larger pan, the ingredients will be spread out through the pan much more thinly and will be more prone to boiling or evaporating away.

The end result is you end up with dried out dinners. It sounds obvious to me now, but it took me a while to figure this out!

Quantity Of Liquids

The rule of thumb here is: don’t reduce the liquid ingredients by the same percentage.

While it’s important to keep the food ingredients at the same relative quantities when cooking for one person (to ensure the overall taste remains the same), it’s a little different with liquids.

The thing about liquids is that they partly evaporate away during cooking. Since you’ll be cooking at the same temperatures, the less liquid you start with, the more (proportionally-speaking) will be boiled away during cooking, ultimately leaving you with food that’s either too dry or hasn’t enough sauce.

The kinds of liquids that are affected by this include:

  • Evaporated milk / cream / regular milk
  • Liquid stock (eg. Chicken stock, beef stock)
  • Juices (such as orange juice, pineapple juice etc.)

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but gives you the idea that thinner liquids (as opposed to thicker sauces) are more prone to evaporation.

What I have found works best is that you should reduce the quantities of these liquids as half as much as you do the other ingredients.

For example, if you’re cooking a meal that the recipe says would serve 4 just for yourself, then you would divide the quantities of all ingredients by 4. For any liquid ingredients, you should divide the quantities by just 2.

Similarly, if you’re cooking that same recipe for two people, then you’d divide the quantities of non-liquid ingredients by 2 but leave the liquids as they are.

If you find that there’s too much liquid left at the end of the cooking time, then either cook a little longer to boil it off, or use a slotted spoon to remove everything else from the pan leaving as much liquid behind as you want.

Cooking Time

The rule of thumb here is: reduce cooking times when cooking smaller quantities.

Similar to the above section about quantities of ingredients, I have found that cooking times can vary depending on the quantities being cooked. This is especially true for cooking in a frypan.

However, it’s difficult to come up with a hard-and-fast rule about this. With experience, I’ve learned to tell when food is cooked just by looking at it (OK, and occasionally cutting into a piece of chicken to double-check!).

The problem is that although you would be cooking smaller quantities in a smaller pan when cooking for one person, the heat levels remain more or less the same.

By the way I certainly don’t recommend reducing heat levels when cooking! Food needs to be cooked at certain temperatures to ensure it’s free from bacteria etc.

That leaves time as the only other variable that can be changed. Again, food needs a minimum amount of time to cook properly but overcooking isn’t good either.

I would suggest shaving about 10 to 20 percent of the cooking times off when cooking for one person or two. Of course, you should check first that the food is properly cooked (especially with items like chicken or fish) but by checking early you can avoid overcooking your food. If you think it needs a little longer then let it cook for another minute or so, and check again.

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